Number of home-schooled children in Arizona likely to rise

As dissatisfaction with public education in Arizona grows and the debate over school choice intensifies, local and national experts are predicting a steady rise in the number of homeschooled students in Arizona.

According to the Maricopa County Education Service Agency, there are already 22,500 homeschooled students in the state of Arizona and over 10,000 of them reside in Maricopa County. This Monday, the Tuscon Citizen published a detailed look into the homeschooling community in Arizona, with a particular focus on a Christian homeschooling organization called Arizona Families for Home Education (AFHE).

Carol Shippy, an AFHE board member, says that homeschooling in Arizona is nothing new, and is in fact becoming something of a family tradition for some Arizona residents:

“A lot of families are second-generation homeschoolers. We’re starting to see a lot of people that are grandparents that homeschooled with their kids who are now homeschooling.”

AFHE’s yearly convention, held in July, attracted over 5,000 families in 2011 with an increase of 320 families in attendance over the year before. Besides providing education and support for homeschooling families, AFHE engages in public advocacy for homeschoolers’ legislative interests.

According to Luis Huerta, an education policy professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College:

“Homeschool families are not monolithic. There are not just religious and political reasons people are doing this. Some have very strongly held convictions for keeping the state out of their living rooms and they will also do everything possible to oppose any form of state sanctioning.”

Just what quality of education are these students getting in their living rooms? AFHE’s Carol Shippy argues that in the age of information, students have access to high quality materials for a fraction of the price:

“There is no issue any longer with access to high-quality materials or information. A financially challenged family can provide so much through the Internet and public libraries. Some excellent institutions are putting up lectures on YouTube.”

There’s a long history of homeschooling in America, going back to colonial times when Puritan New England educated children at home and in small community schools. Historians say that remarkably, the Puritans were the first society in Western civilization to achieve a near-universal literacy rate.

As public dollars for education have significantly increased over the last decade, and while quality and results have remained steady or even declined, it looks like more Arizonans are increasingly resorting to America’s traditional method for educating children– doing so in the home.